Ask and you will receive... Maybe. Eventually. In an election campaign getting a straight answer can be like pulling teeth

It's seldom the first time you ask the question that's telling. Sometimes it takes until the 4th or 5th ask before you see the truth peep its head out from behind the spin. There were three good examples of that on The Nation this morning.

First, Bill English was asked for one new idea to boost the economy. The first time he answered that "we actually think we're going in the right direction". The second time he said how well exporters were doing against some "head winds". The third time, Lisa said "I'm going to give you one last chance, Mr English. Have you got a new idea to boost our economy?"

English replied:

"We want to keep going in the direction we're going cos it's the right direction. We disagree with the Opposition who believe that New Zealanders have got it all wrong in the last four or five years. We think they've got it right."

Which is National's campaign strategy in a nutshell. Don't change boats. Don't rock that boat. Keep on rowing in the same direction. But really, after six years in office and with exports falling and growth having "peaked", a Finance Minister should be able to express one new idea that responds to the needs of the times. And it's backwards looking (like those rowers), not pushing forward with a new vision for a new term.

It plays into the view, expressed by many in business as well as the government's more obvious critics, that National has run out of ideas.

Second, Lisa Owen asked English if he'd be OK if one of his staff went into someone else's website and took person credit card details. English tried to bat it away as a hypothetical, but even when Owen replaced the someone with "Jason Ede", English wouldn't answer the question directly. He said there are bigger issues, that he couldn't add anything to the "extensive commentary" thus far, that this had been endlessly discussed. But what he never said, after nine attempts, was that going into someone else's computer and dowloading private information was wrong.

People are wary of this story, but at any other time in our history that would be remarkable. That the Deputy Prime Minister would not say such behaviour was unethical.

What English did say, interestingly, was that "I wouldn't ask a staff member to do it". So there's a hint there that it's improper behaviour, but not clear denunciation.As I say, remarkable.

Third, Paddy Gower asked Hone Harawira if he supported the decriminalisation of cannabis. He began his answer by saying:

"I'm really comfortable with the way in which the Internet Party has developed their policies..."

Gower asked him five times before getting "I don't, personally". You'd have thought it a very simple question given in the past Harawira has said:

"If there is one law I could pass, it would be line up the guys who are making the most money out of this legal drug stuff, put them on TV and then publicly execute them, and then introduce a law to say the next bastard that does it is going to get the same treatment"

But the problem is that as leader of Mana (which is supposedly "still working through all of those issues") he's been opposed to cannabis use and yet the Internet Party and the merged Internet-Mana party has the policy to "immediately decriminalise personal use". So he's rather awkwardly at odds with his own party. Or the parties are at odds.

They agree on the use of cannabis for medical purposes and a review of cannabis laws, to move the use of the drug from a criminal to a health issue. But where Harawira couldn't or wouldn't give a straight answer was that he wants to punish those selling drugs, while Internet-Mana want to "develop a model of regulating the legal production and distribution of cannabis for personal use to enable the taxation of cannabis and the monitoring of its supply".

Frankly, you'd hope for better, more direct answers to all those questions. But then this is two weeks from an election and people are tip-toeing around sensitive areas.  Which is why journalists ask the questions more than once.

So remember the next time you think a host is being too pedantic or rude that there's a reason; the most telling reply often comes on the third, fifth or even ninth ask.

Comments (7)

by Katharine Moody on September 06, 2014
Katharine Moody

Lisa did an absolutely great job today. Not over-talking or interrupting, but persistant. A very nice manner. Paddy on the other hand might have started badgering way too soon. I love his enthusiasm (and his smile) but Hone and Laila are pretty straight talkers, if you give them the chance! :-)  

Just a bit on Hone's quotation above - it relates to synthetic cannabis, it comes from here;

Families demand scrapping of legal-high laws

I don't recall whether he did or didn't point that out, but these are very different drugs - one is an unknown potential poison, the other is a natural herb with no additives. The harm from synthetic cannabis is/has been unspeakable. These are very emotive issues for Hone, as his people are suffering, and on the synthetic cannabis one, all that was on offer was, no regulation whatsoever, or the deal the government stitched together with the corporate lobbyists, most notably including Peter Dunne's (the MP sponsoring the legislation) own lawyer son;

and here from the Chen Palmer website;

James has valuable inside knowledge of how Parliament works in New Zealand, and is New Zealand’s leading specialist in the regulation of new psychoactives under the Psychoactive Substances Act 2013.

As we all now know in hindsight, the continued harm was just so great that they banned the lot within months of passing the "joke" that was the stitched up deal. Hone's quote was in the context of the fallout, outrage and feeling of absolute desperateness of the loved ones of those affected by the poison.

Hone is opposed to cannabis use/abuse as much as he is opposed to alcohol use/abuse and to tobacco use/abuse. I think he made that clear in relation to his personal opinion, as you mention above. 

Point I'd make is, I don't think the media should "make sport" of these issues. They are very difficult and any party or parties brave enough to explore options with the intent to improve societal outcomes should be encouraged and applauded, not "gamed". 

Liquor in many provinces in Canada is sold only in government facilities. No ads, no promotions, no shop display windows, no private sector involvement in retail distribution. Extremely high taxes. It is a model that perhaps we should be considering on all three of these drugs.


by stuart munro on September 07, 2014
stuart munro

I'd've expected that discriminating the issues of synthetic 'cannabis'/real cannabis would not be foreign to media, who ought by rights to be better informed than average.

Nor would Hone holding a more conservative position than his party or parties be indicative of a lack of integrity - if he had done so. The Internet party use a direct democracy mechanism for developing policy and have assembled a sophisticated and prudent policy in record time. It is true that politicians changing their minds demands some attention, but if Hone had been deferring to the wishes of his constituents instead of his personal preferences it would have reflected well, not badly, on his character.

by Viv Kerr on September 07, 2014
Viv Kerr

As a dentist, I'd like to say that pulling teeth is easier than getting straight answers from politicians seems to be :-)

by mudfish on September 07, 2014

"...But the problem is that as leader of Mana (which is supposedly "still working through all of those issues") he's been opposed to cannabis use and yet the Internet Party and the merged Internet-Mana party has the policy to "immediately decriminalise personal use". So he's rather awkwardly at odds with his own party. Or the parties are at odds."

I think Hone was just being as careful as he could to avoid falling into the media trap of amplifying divisions within a party. Actually, they are still two parties with two separate policies on this and other issues, they are in a modern m m p de facto partnership of convenience. There are plenty of issues they do agree on, but this isn't one of them. So what do you get for your vote for InternetMana? A bit of both and more of both than if they were separate. Very convenient. 

Does that clear up any confusion?


by Tim Watkin on September 08, 2014
Tim Watkin

Mudfish, you've put it better than the two leaders! So why didn't they just say, 'we have different views on this one"? It's hardly a media trap to be looking for a simple answer. Paddy had a bunch of other things to ask about, but if you refuse to clear up a simple yes or no, it looks like you're being shifty.

Cut to the fact: After several attempts, a party leader (he is leader of Internet-Mana, not just Mana) wouldn't say whether or not he supported one of his party's policies. That really should be the simplest question to answer. He hates drugs, opposes decriminalisation... Mana is still working out a position, supposedly. But let's be honest, when asked about drugs a year ago or two years ago Mana would have had an anti-drugs position... And Internet-Mana wants decriminalisation.

So if they want to go down the 'agree to disagree' line they need to figure out a way to give an honest answer to an honest question.

@Katherine, there's nothing "sport" about expecting a straight answer from party leaders on their own policy. You'd be up in arms if John Key was fudging like that, would you not?


by Tim Watkin on September 08, 2014
Tim Watkin

Viv - great line!

And Katharine, tell me if I've misunderstood, but from what I believe you're saying I think you're on utterly the wrong track with your take on a "stitched up deal". Fathers and sons are allowed to be on different sides of arguments. The law as it was passed was Dunne's genuine view and he thought he'd found an elegant solution, you might say. Indeed almost all MPs did – it passed 121-1, with only Banks voting against cos of the animal testing. Indeed, many MPs still think the deal that was was the best law, it was only fear of public opinion that forced a change.

What's more most of the drugs experts, from the Drugs Foundation down, thought the initial law was world-leading and great.

And if you're serious about drug harm, then cannabis in its raw form is also doing damage to "his people" (and indeed all our people) when it's being used by so many teens. The convictions and brain damage at a young age are a real problem.

by Katharine Moody on September 08, 2014
Katharine Moody

In this case, Tim, father and son were on the same side of the argument - that's the problem. I cannot see how the Cabinet office found there to be no conflict of interest.

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